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Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music

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4.12  ·  Rating Details ·  746 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
In 1915, Thomas Edison proclaimed that he could record a live performance and reproduce it perfectly, shocking audiences who found themselves unable to tell whether what they were hearing was an Edison Diamond Disc or a flesh-and-blood musician. Today, the equation is reversed. Whereas Edison proposed that a real performance could be rebuilt with absolute perfection, Pro T ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published June 9th 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Edmole
Sep 02, 2012 Edmole rated it it was amazing
Usually with 400 page facty books you enjoy them but are happy to have got through to the end. With this, I was disappointed when I got to the last few pages. So much fascinating detail, so many fascinating stories, and hundreds of answers about the recording of sound, none of which Milner is arrogant or foolish enough to call definitive.

This starts off with the Big Bang, obviously, and how the universe spread out in waves of sound and light. Then we get a little more specific, with technical bu
...more
Mike Lindgren
Mar 10, 2010 Mike Lindgren rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a well-researched and intermittently fascinating look at the history of recording technology. Music geeks will like it because they get to learn a lot of semi-technical stuff about compression and waveforms and the like. Milner is not a natural storyteller and occasionally gets himself crossed up; the book could have been substantially shorter. Audiophiles and vinyl snobs will find ammunition for defending their Luddite ways.
Emeraldia Ayakashi
Sep 07, 2016 Emeraldia Ayakashi rated it really liked it
Shelves: mu-sic
« Très, très, très peu de livres changeront votre façon d’écouter la musique. Celui-ci est l’un d’eux. » Jarvis Cocker

Obviously this Jarvis's sentence terribly given me want to read this book!

Here is a book for lovers of music. More than 400 pages to revisit the history of technology that helped save the music (which seems so obvious now), and yet it only goes back to 1877.

Extremely well documented, concealing technical details (complex enough for some), but also anecdotes from the world of mu
...more
Taffnerd
Jan 24, 2010 Taffnerd rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
This book is outstanding. The cover (and title to a lesser degree) might lead one to believe that it is a dry academic work but that couldn't be further from the truth. The mechanical and cultural impact of recorded music read like well-paced fiction.

Milner writes about the whole history of recorded sound with humor and insight. His retellings of Edison's efforts and the field recordings that john and Alan Lomax did in the 1930's illustrate the conflicts between fidelity and reality that have sh
...more
Ero
Oct 15, 2009 Ero rated it it was amazing
Shelves: from-liberry
Absolutely one of the best things I've ever read about recorded audio. The chapter on Leadbelly's discovery/exploitation/celebration/creation is splendid, and the rest of the book is pretty well done too.

Occasionally this lurches a little, from almost-stale college-research-paper historical bits into magaziney "then I went to his house to hear his $5,000,000 speakers for myself" bits. But all in all it sustains a high level of intelligence and ease, and occasionally rises to truly high levels of
...more
Andrew
Nov 29, 2011 Andrew rated it it was amazing
Probably the first accessible "general audience" book about the history of recording music, it perfectly balances the sociocultural context behind the history of different recording practices and technological advances without skimping on either front or capitulating to an elusive mainstream audience. As a recording engineer, I was surprised that even I learned new things and yet I'd still feel comfortable recommending the book to my Mom or anyone looking for a general pop-nonfiction read.
Steven
Jan 30, 2015 Steven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great, just great. This book will change the way you listen to music. Greg Milner is a gifted storyteller and very good writer.
J.
Jul 17, 2010 J. rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Analogistas
Shelves: music, sound-audio
Review at Konichiwa Witches, on the "Bell" pages....
http://home.earthlink.net/~cumulo-nim...
Aaron Arnold
Feb 11, 2014 Aaron Arnold rated it really liked it
It's easy for a 21st century music listener to forget that for the majority of human history, music appreciation has been an exclusively live, ephemeral, social affair - the serious music nerd with a vast album library, arcane tastes, and expensive headphones and speaker setup is purely an creature of the fruits of technological progress. Milner shows how the invention of sound recording technology had a transformational effect on how people interact with and appreciate music, from the early Edi ...more
Chris Trevino
Jan 10, 2017 Chris Trevino rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
Great stories and excellent quick overview of the history of recorded sound. Doesn't always go very in-depth on topics, but it's an easy, fun read and offers a good starting point for learning the major moments of sound technology.
Luke
Apr 05, 2015 Luke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first came to this book because of Jarvis Cocker's reading of an excerpt about how, physiologically, you perceive the drums in Led Zeppelin's 'When The Levee Breaks'. It was an excerpt - edited, as I've discovered, though not greatly - that ropes physics with the excitement that particular Foot-Of-God drum phrase invokes in a way which makes even non-Zep fans a bit excited.

You can hear it here. I'll wait.

Basically, if you liked that snippet and the way it conveys SCIENCE stuff in an easy-to-
...more
East Bay J
Apr 21, 2016 East Bay J rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: about-music
Wow. This is a killer read. I could just leave it at that but I’m not known for quite that much brevity, so…

With Perfecting Sound Forever, Greg Milner has tapped into the collective recording consciousness through an exploration of recording technology. From the very earliest forms like Edison’s talking machine and those first circular shellac discs, to the conundrum that is modern digital recording, he examines not only those technologies but also the effect they have on us as listeners and tha
...more
Joe
Apr 23, 2016 Joe rated it really liked it
This book describes the history of attempts to produce better recorded sound -- and in doing so, it takes an interesting trip through the history and technology of recording itself.

Milner starts off at the beginning of recorded sound. This was the part of the book I found most interesting, and had the most history that was new to me. I think many people are familiar with discussions of the quality of analog or digital sound reproduction -- records or CDs -- but it was fascinating to see how that
...more
Darren Hemmings
Oct 31, 2010 Darren Hemmings rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
Starting with Thomas Edison's invention of the Gramophone, it traces key developments in the world of music, including the development of analogue tape, the high fidelity years, multitracking, digital, the Loudness Wars and finally the emergence of Digital Audio Workstations such as Pro Tools which instigated the widespread closure of the legedary recording studios of the world, such as the Power Station in NYC.

If you're a music fan of any kind, this book is simply a must-read: one of those work
...more
Alexander Miles
This was an interesting non-fiction pick. It started off a bit pretentious, but when it got into the history it really started to shine. There are one or two passages where the author attempts to touch on more scientific aspects and ends up painfully out of their depth, but these are rare exceptions. The vast majority of the book is written expertly, citing examples and providing quotes from the various personalities. The author's voice is entertainingly sardonic when appropriate, and other time ...more
Alex Orr
Nov 04, 2014 Alex Orr rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
The chapter analyzing digital compression and the loudness wars is reason enough to recommend this to all serious music fans, though, thankfully, it is consistently entertaining and educational. I think the biggest revelation for me was just how much of a constant flux the recording, mechanical preservation, reproduction, and commercial distribution of sound was in throughout the 20th century. It's easy to think that sudden changes, such as tape over vinyl, digital, and multi-track studios were ...more
Ray Dunsmore
Jan 18, 2014 Ray Dunsmore rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A stunning, captivating narrative of one of man's most strangely poetic endeavors - the struggle to capture sound, that most ephemeral sense seeming to exist only between our ears. The book spans over 100 years from Edison's first efforts driven by perfectionism and a true showman's sense of marketing to the effective death of the recording industry as it existed in the 20th century due to the field-leveling strength of Pro Tools at the dawn of the 21st (with a glimpse of what lies ahead at the ...more
Phil Wilkins
Jan 06, 2014 Phil Wilkins rated it it was amazing
You don't need to be a music geek or audiophile to find this book fascinating. This is a great read, with Greg Milner's writing and passion for his subject carrying you along - so much so you'd think you're being carried along by a good thriller if you didn't know better. The book although not scholarly, is rich in its factual content focuses on key points and events in the evolution in the recording of music from the early days of Edison upto the digital age.
What is fascinating is how just a fe
...more
Chris Newman
Dec 09, 2013 Chris Newman rated it it was amazing
A fantastic history about a subject that may have a huge impact on how we hear music from now on or it may fall on deaf ears (pun intended). This is a book about the battle for real sound or the debate between what sounds pure and what has presence versus what consumers care about which is usually convenience. I fall in the latter category since I grew up at a time when CDs were emerging and vinyl all but disappeared from store shelves. I am not an audiophile but I loved the history and debate o ...more
Dave
Feb 22, 2013 Dave rated it it was amazing
This book is a must-read for 'audiophiles', but is also intensely interesting for anyone who enjoys and listens closely to music. Starting with Thomas Edison and the first recorded sounds, this book is not only an informal 'history' of recorded music, but it also poses some very interesting philosophical issues on what should constitute realistic lifelike music playback. What this means in terms of sound mixing, mastering, and producing is covered in great depth.

This book will be an absolute rev
...more
Anthony
Jan 03, 2014 Anthony rated it it was amazing
A well-written and engaging history of recorded music, as gripping and hard to put down as the best thrillers with a nice fluid style. This chronicles not just the technology of recording, but the competing philosophies of what makes a "true" recording which echo down to this day. It also shows with an even-handedness the egos and passions behind all side of these arguments.

An absolute must-read for anyone interested in sound reproduction: engineers, producers, hi-fi aficionados, and anyone inte
...more
Ade
Jun 26, 2012 Ade rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A remarkable history, analysis and amble through the technology and moreover the cultural impact of recorded sound. If you want to know why Def Leppard's Hysteria is the perfected apotheosis of the acoustic recording era, read this. If you want a cracking overview of the "Loudness Wars", it's here. If you want to discover why CD isn't quite (and wasn't intended to be) "perfect sound forever", how the Emulator and Synclavier changed music, and how Pro Tools has completely changed the time and pla ...more
Will Lashley
Mar 03, 2013 Will Lashley rated it really liked it
A very good read that traces the technological development of sound recording through a discussion of the aesthetic choices it presented to musicians and to the recording industry and mixes this perspective against the practical and economic restraints that blurred the intended effects of those choices. Greg Milner demonstrates how time and again "perfect" sound has proven to be a cultural abstraction and a commercial chimera. Get this book and read it - even if it may make you unhappy with larg ...more
Jeremy
Jan 06, 2013 Jeremy rated it it was amazing
This book is highly informative, opinionated, and as objective as a discussion of human perceptions can really be. I'd say the subject of this book is: how do we listen? how do we think we listen? are those as closely related as we think?

Spoiler: No.

I'm a pretty big audio geek, so any book that can spill info I never knew about both the history of the development of audio tape recording and the record "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown" is of enormous value to me.

Highly recommended to a narrow aud
...more
Kaitlin
Aug 25, 2013 Kaitlin rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
This book took an incredibly long time for me to finish. I found the topic interesting, but the writing was a little hard to read for extended periods. I believe this was primarily due to being sort of repetitive and circular in sections.

Still, it was nice to know how the recording process has changed over the years. The book made me wish I had been around before music was compressed to within an inch of its life.

I'd probably recommend the book only to those highly interested in the subject matt
...more
Jeanne Thornton
Jul 30, 2014 Jeanne Thornton rated it really liked it
Pretty neat--it's weird that I didn't think to read a book like this BEFORE spending years writing a book that largely takes place in recording studios. Excellent spooky facts about Edison, the discovery of magnetic tape, etc etc. Sometimes the writing gets kind of overly zesty for my tastes, and the chapters are organized in a really idiosyncratic way--I'm thinking here of the decision to combine the ENTIRE HISTORY OF PRODUCING SOUND USING A COMPUTER into a relatively quick chapter at the end-- ...more
Andrew Hull
Jan 05, 2014 Andrew Hull rated it really liked it
There's a quote on the back of the book that says "Very, very very few books will change the way you listen to music. This is one such book. Read it." - Jarvis Cocker

I can't disagree with that. Many times while reading this book, I had to put it down and think about what I had just read. Very interesting perspective on the history of how music is recorded and how that can affect the music we listen to. I'd have given it 5 stars, but there were some parts that were just a shade too dry for my lik
...more
Adrian Bilinsky
Aug 03, 2015 Adrian Bilinsky rated it it was amazing
I am generally a reader of fiction/historical and was not expecting to enjoy this book.
However, a friend of mine recommended it and said the first few pages were dedicated to John Bonhams right foot and how it changed the world.
I was intrigued and so I ordered it on Amazon and started to read it.
Didn't... well couldn't put it down would be more accurate.
Fantastic read.
You don't have to be a complete audiophile to appreciate this book and I recommend it as a good introductory book for audio to st
...more
Sergi Alacid
Feb 03, 2016 Sergi Alacid rated it really liked it
Well-researched and intermittently fascinating look at the history of recording technology. Milner is not a natural storyteller and the book resents from that; it could have been substantially shorter, and thus more engaging. However, gotta love it if you consider yourself a melomaniac, it invites you to reflect upon what a recorded sound actually is, what it strives for, and to define, sonically speaking, who you are.
J. J.
Mar 08, 2013 J. J. rated it it was amazing
There are plenty of excellent reviews of this book on Goodreads. For me, I appreciate Milner's ability to cover all the major issues and events in recording history in less than 380 pages. There are a few rabbit trails he chases (which I skimmed over), but overall, I feel that he gives fair treatment to each perspective about how records should be made, and heard. Makes me want to look into how rapidly things are changing, now four years after this book's publication.
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Greg Milner is the author of Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His forthcoming book, Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture and Our Minds, will be published by WW Norton in May 2016. Milner is also theco-author, with filmmaker Joe Berlinger, of Metallica: This Monster Lives. A former editor at Spin, his w ...more
More about Greg Milner...

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“When you have two notes from two different performances Auto-Tuned, it sounds like a car horn. And then you add harmonies, and it starts to sound like baby seals honking." - Tom Lord-Alge on Auto-Tune” 3 likes
“This is... an attempt to find some of the important fault lines in the narrative of "recorded history"--the points where people with access to the technology decided that *this* was how recordings should sound, and *this* is what it means to make a record. Ultimately, this is the story of what it means to make a recording of music--a *representation* of music--and declare it to be music itself.” 2 likes
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